Think of the types of compliance audits or assessments that an organization may have throughout the year – SOC 1, SOC 2, PCI DSS, HIPAA compliance audits, Internal Audits, FedRAMP, and HITRUST assessments just to name a few. The list seems to ever increase as new regulations are added. The origination of an audit could be from internal, government, or industry-specific requirements. It’s no wonder organizations that are trying to keep up with current compliance standards and frameworks may start suffering from audit fatigue. Throughout this blog, we will explore what contributes to audit fatigue, the effects of multiple audits on an organization, and ways to prevent and mitigate audit fatigue.
What is Audit Fatigue?
Audit fatigue is the feeling of tiredness or frustration that comes with an organization’s participation in the growing amount of compliance requirements and the efforts to satisfy those requirements through audits and assessments. Audit fatigue is not something that can really be quantified. The fatigue of conducting multiple audits can have an impact on employee morale and productivity.
Some audits are solely meant to achieve compliance with the respective standards or frameworks required for the company to operate and therefore, the feeling of growth or forward movement may not be the first result when completing these routine audits. This scenario is also referred to as audit paralysis, where audit requirements are satisfied, however, the organization does not see any real improvement or value with the repetitive nature of the audits. Management teams can also become frustrated when they see the increasing audit costs to keep up with new regulations and increasing compliance requirements, but there are ways to prevent and mitigate audit fatigue that we will discuss below.
What are the Typical Phases of a Compliance Audit or Assessment?
Before we dive into mitigating audit fatigue, let’s summarize what typically occurs during a compliance audit or assessment. These phases are defined at a high level as audits and assessments can come in many different flavors.
- Planning Phase – This is where the scope of the audit is defined, and resources are assigned. Planning is always critical to a successful audit and requires the input of many individuals within an organization. For an example of considerations that go into planning an internal audit, read our blog on why internal audit planning is so important.
- Walkthrough/Process Interviews – Generally, auditors conduct some sort of process interviews to determine their understanding of the process, define or refine controls within the process, and ask clarifying questions of process owners.
- Testing/Sampling – Depending on the type of audit or assessment, auditors may take a sample of transactions or process events, to test the effectiveness of the controls in place.
- Remediation – Also depending on the type of audit or assessment being performed, the organization may have some remediation efforts to address deficiencies identified by the auditor(s).
- Results – The summation of an audit often produces a report containing the results.
All of these phases typically require some form of effort from the organization’s management and control owners. Considering many organizations have defined IT security compliance personnel, you can start to see how managing these phases and requirements across multiple audits throughout the year in addition to their day-to-day job responsibilities can be time-consuming and exhausting. Read here to learn more about the roles and responsibilities of Information Security.
What are Some Key Contributors to Audit Fatigue?
There are a few common factors that contribute to audit fatigue:
- Timeliness of audits – When organizations participate in multiple audits throughout the year that are scheduled months apart, what ends up happening is the control owners must provide similar evidence or exert effort toward the audits at separate intervals two or three times during the year. Poor scheduling and planning can be frustrating and make it seem as if there is always an audit occurring requiring attention each day.
- Duplication of Efforts – Scope overlap is common when participating in multiple compliance audits centered around security and privacy. For example, a Company undertaking a SOC 2 and PCI DSS assessment during the same calendar year will find quite a bit of overlap between the controls and evidence evaluated for these types of assessments. Being asked for the same evidence can be tiring and inefficient causing the feel of audit fatigue.
- Communication Barriers – If an organization operates in silos, the results and remediation from one audit may not be applied to all areas if the information is not shared. Personnel may feel as if they are being tasked to address the same audit findings year after year if results from an audit that may benefit the entire organization are kept secluded to one department. Sharing information and having leadership involvement in the audit process are key.
- Less Time for Core Job Functions – As previously stated, control owners may be required to provide the same evidence multiple times due to several audits operating on different schedules. Although requesting one report or one screenshot may not seem like a lot, the time and effort contributed to supporting multiple audits adds up and results in employees having less time to perform their normal job responsibilities, leaving them feeling overwhelmed and behind at work.
How to Prevent & Mitigate Audit Fatigue
- Identify the commonalities between the compliance frameworks or standards used in the organization’s audits – A great starting point is to map the organization’s internal controls to the various standards and frameworks audited against and see where evidence may be shared. This step is imperative to reducing audit fatigue, as one must identify and evaluate the baseline of controls required for each audit in order to determine where overlap exists.
- Establish timelines that coordinate well with ongoing and current assessments – Most auditors are happy to adjust their evaluation and interview schedules if they are notified well in advance and if it will help lessen the time commitment of the evidence-gathering process for their clients. Suppose the audit schedules are modified to be occurring around the same time or back to back. In that case, the same piece of evidence that is common amongst a control should be able to be provided for multiple audits and therefore, reduce the control owner’s effort. From the previous step of identifying common controls and evidence, this is where that can prove beneficial.
- Create a central repository for storing all audit evidence – The successful implementation of a compliance tool or some type of central repository can greatly reduce the time necessary for process owners to provide evidence and for auditors to obtain evidence. The days of communicating back and forth through dozens of email threads can be done away with if there is a central repository used by all personnel to track audit evidence.
- Designate an internal individual as the compliance officer or liaison – This individual should be tasked with coordinating audit schedules, interviews with process owners, and tracking down past due audit evidence. By having one person or a small team of individuals responsible for communicating and facilitating the project management aspects of compliance audits, operational efficiency will no doubt increase as well as reduce the burden of the audits on the entire organization.
- Hire audit firms that can perform more than one of the required compliance audits or those that have a good reputation for working well with other firms – If you can identify firms that perform more than one of the required audits or that work seamlessly with other audit firms, it not only reduces the headache of dealing with multiple individuals, but most likely will sync the audit schedules automatically. Read here to learn some helpful tips for choosing an auditor.
What are the Effects of Increased Compliance?
There are positive and negative effects to the ever-increasing amount of regulations surrounding security compliance. One of the obvious effects that we covered in this blog is audit fatigue. To be successfully compliant with multiple security frameworks requires lots of time and resources. This can weigh heavily on the IT security and compliance personnel within the organization and reduce their morale if constantly required to complete internal and/or third-party audits.
On the other hand, receiving consistent feedback on the organization’s security environment and strengthening its internal controls year over year can reduce the risk of exposure to cybersecurity attacks and vulnerabilities. Threats to security will always be present, so it is important to identify weaknesses within an organization’s security framework and remain proactive in addressing these risks. An indirect benefit to multiple audits is the opportunities and various perspectives available to identify potential weaknesses within the organization’s controls.
Audit fatigue is a very real thing and can be stressful for organizations to overcome. Hopefully, this blog has highlighted some key contributors to audit fatigue and ways your organization can prevent and mitigate it when participating in multiple compliance audits.
Linford & Co. service auditors work diligently with service organizations to reduce the burden of compliance audits and make the process as streamlined as possible. If you are interested in engaging our auditing services or have any questions, please feel free to contact us and our team of audit professionals at Linford & Co.
Natalie Munro specializes in SOC examinations for Linford & Co., LLP, and is currently a manager with the firm. She started her career with Ernst & Young’s Risk Assurance group in 2014 after completing her Masters of Accountancy from the University of Georgia. Natalie’s experience includes internal and external audits across multiple industries. She enjoys learning each client’s processes to help them meet their customer’s needs as well as fulfill regulatory requirements.